NIETO-MUNOZ: Home stay enriches study abroad experience
Opinions Column: Views from the 39
Study abroad comes with many opportunities and options. Where will you study? Where will you travel? How will you budget? How long will it take you to get used to your life there? But one of the biggest and most influential opportunities during your time abroad is your living space, a homestay or an apartment.
First thought most of us would have, an apartment. Many of us students have been living away from home, and even if you are a commuter, you spend a lot of time outside of your house. We are all adults, with our own independence, routine and enjoy our personal space and time. And a homestay? We’ve all heard those “horror stories” of mean and strict host parents or weird rules that constrict you from doing your thing. Studying abroad is meant to push some of your boundaries, if not all of them. If you go abroad and really keep your routine and do the same thing as you would in America, then what is truly the point of going abroad? This is one of the reasons I’m glad I did a homestay.
I didn’t think I would choose to stay with a family, back when I first sent in my housing application. Immediately, without a second thought, I chose an apartment. When I met with my undergraduate advisor for Italian, Rhiannon Welch, she asked what I chose as my housing, and I told her I didn’t want to do a homestay. I’ve heard “horror stories” and really wanted my independence. She said something magical that honestly completely changed my perspective: “But don’t you want an Italian mom cooking for you?”
Of course I did. So I chose my homestay. Part of the reason I chose to study in Italy was to immerse myself in the culture. What better way than to have a real life Italian mom cook Italian food for me? Fresh pasta and pizza and sauce and everything else you could imagine.
There are many other rewarding experiences a homestay can offer you. One of the more attractive reasons people choose to do a homestay is the fact that it is a lot cheaper — just like living in the dorms at Rutgers versus living at home. While abroad, having a budget is extremely important, especially if one plans on traveling, or chooses to give in and buy that unnecessary yet cute shirt at the market. Homestays are almost always the cheaper option, due to the fact that they include meals, laundry and the price of the homestay is either free or significantly less than an apartment with rent.
Like I’ve said (and can’t stress enough how great this is), you get home cooked meals. My program offers breakfast and dinner, so every morning my host mom makes me an espresso and prepares me a breakfast, and every night I have a warm, nice, freshly made dinner. I really don’t think my host mom has ever made dinner from a box. And if you’re a picky person, have no fear. It’s easy to let the family know what you do and don’t like. I’ve explicitly explained to my family my hatred for fish, and I can happily say that I haven’t been forced to eat it. Though, living with my homestay family I have had the opportunity to try new foods, especially authentic Italian food — and not paying the restaurant price for it.
Cultural immersion is a huge plus when living with a local family because they have so much to offer. You cannot get any more authentically culturally immersed than living with a local family. My homestay family is pretty popular in my town, so I am often invited to go out to eat or attend events with them, meaning I get to have "aperitivo," or go to the opening night to the new wine bar, and I don’t have to pay, which is the greatest part. Language skills will also come into play here. A homestay forces you to speak in the language of the native speakers, and allows for practice. My program is very language intensive, but every time I go somewhere around town it is obvious that I’m not Italian, and the shopkeepers speak to me in English. By living with a family, I get to practice my language skills without judgment if I mess up and learn colloquial terms, which is a huge benefit to living with a local family versus learning the language in a classroom.
Finally, the connection you make with your homestay family is something like no other. The family offers you a support system when something happens at home, or a rush of homesickness comes over you. Your homestay family is your home away from home. When I got a really bad sinus infection, my host mom made me a “special” traditional Italian concoction to make me feel better, something that makes you feel loved as though they were your own family. Your homestay family will offer you much more than a dormitory or apartment would, whether it’s taking you around town or introducing you to new people, the process can be easier with the family.
Although there are rules and sometimes I do find myself dependent on my host family, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m able to practice my language of study, have help with my homework and of course, the amazing fresh meals. I’m also able to see my friends and go out all the same as I would in a dorm room. A homestay offers no limits to authentic cultural experiences and unique relationships. Choosing a homestay or a dormitory is a difficult choice to make when studying abroad, but if learning the culture of your new country and having a genuine experience while overseas, a homestay is an incredible thing to look into. You will learn a lot about yourself and the culture while studying abroad and push your boundaries.
Sophie Nieto-Munoz is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in journalism and media studies and Italian. She is currently studying abroad in Italy through CIEE. Her column, “Views from the +39” runs on alternate Tuesdays.
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